Recent changes to the planning system won’t necessarily deliver the high quality, low energy housing the UK desperately needs
The pace of planning reform is now so fast that it’s hard to grasp the scale of change which the Government is now pushing for. While many aspects of the Localism Bill remain controversial, such as the effective ending of strategic planning and the complex and unaccountable neighbourhood forums, there are now new changes to digest.
The Budget paved the way for further outright deregulation of planning and there is now an active consultation on the use class order which would look to remove the need to seek planning permission when converting commercial property to residential usage.
The potential social and environmental implications of this are quite breathtaking, with no opportunity to ensure new homes would have adequate green or play space and no way of imposing conditions on traffic impacts or sustainable low carbon infrastructure.
In addition, on the 11th May a new clause in the Bill was announced without any consultation which would fundamentally change way local councils make decisions. The amendment would make direct financial benefits form Government grants the first amongst equals of material consideration when decisions were made.
The measure is designed to ensure the payments from the New Homes Bonus have a profound impact on planning decisions. However the clause is so broadly drawn that it runs the risk of making any other cash payments to a local authority material to any decision.
The TCPA and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) have published a study which reveals the problems of the New Homes Bonus not just in terms of its regressive nature in reallocation of monies away from low demand areas, but in its impact on sustainable development by encouraging growth on the most developable, rather than most sustainable sites. What was clear however, is that cash strapped local councils need no additional pressure to take the Bonus seriously.
Quite apart from the level of confusion which such fast moving changes create, there are profound questions as to whether the new system will deliver the kind highly quality housing or low carbon economy the nation so desperately needs.
1. The TCPA and JRF report policy analysis of housing and planning reform is available to download at: http://www.tcpa.org.uk/data/files/tcpa_jrfpolicyanalysis_final_report.pdf